Journo arrests hike tensions

Journo arrests hike tensions

Freelance news photographer Nattaphon Phanphongsanon looks out of the police van taking him from the Thung Song Hong police station to the Criminal Court on Tuesday. He was later released on bail. (Photo: @TLHR2014 X account)
Freelance news photographer Nattaphon Phanphongsanon looks out of the police van taking him from the Thung Song Hong police station to the Criminal Court on Tuesday. He was later released on bail. (Photo: @TLHR2014 X account)

As fears grow that the furore over royal motorcades and the fierce reaction from royalist groups might become the catalyst for further polarisation in Thai society, our policemen's storm-in-a-tea cup arrest of two journalists over their coverage of the campaign for reform of the monarchy has only heightened tensions.

On Monday, plainclothes police apprehended two journalists -- Nuttaphol Meksophon, a reporter for the Prachathai website, and Nattaphon Phanphongsanon, who described himself as an independent photographer. Both spent one night behind bars and were released on bail yesterday evening.

They were wanted on a court warrant issued in May last year following a police investigation that accused them of supporting a 24-year-old artist/activist defacing the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in March last year. On March 28, the artist/activist graffitied a message in black spray paint on the temple's pristine white wall opposing the lese majeste law, also known as Section 112 of the Criminal Code.

The pair now face criminal charges for violating the Cleanliness Act, which carries a penalty of up to one month in prison and/or a fine of 10,000 baht, and a charge under Section 32 of the Ancient Monuments Act, which provides for a prison term of up to seven years and/or a fine of up to 700,000 baht.

The reporter and photographer have denied involvement and insisted that they were there to report on the event. However, yesterday, video clips believed to have been supplied by the police appear to show showed both reporters engaged in tagging along with the artists and activists who had gathered for an event the next day. The clips even appear to show the reporters egging on one activist as he sprays graffiti.

While the journalists may feel obliged to defend their modus operandi, the police have again been ham-fisted in dealing with such a sensitive matter. Have the suspects been given a fair chance to clear their names, and on what evidence did the police base their accusations of dereliction of duty in their duty?

As a first step, the police should have consulted with their editors and possibly even the Thai Journalist Association (TJA) months earlier. By sending plainclothes police to make arrests under public cleanliness and ancient monument protection laws, their acts look more like a witch hunt intended to intimidate the media.

It needs to be said that the Royal Thai Police (RTP) and the TJA have frequently cooperated and signed many MoUs in order to establish clearer communication channels.

One such example of the police and media cooperating for the greater good was the TJA's provision of armbands to journalists covering unruly and potentially dangerous political protests.

The TJA also has an open door to discuss incidents involving arrests of reporters or any injuries they suffer when police feel obliged to step in and stop protests descending into violence.

The police did not explore this avenue when they pressed charges against Nuttaphol and Nattaphon, prompting the TJA to yesterday issue an official statement asking for clarification on the matter.

Foreign media and rights groups have also jumped on this story as they drum up their own campaigns attacking the police for violating freedom of expression.

The recent furore about motorcades has seen the political temperature rise when what is needed are cool heads and some consultation -- things the police appear to be sorely lacking after their latest blunders.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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